Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Choose Not to Choose

(This was written when the Knicks were paying Stephon Marbury $21 million dollars to not play basketball.)

A couple of people have asked me to weigh in on Stephon Marbury vs. The Knicks. Who do I support? Well, its like asking me to choose between the Commie's and the Nazis. Can't they do an Aaron Burr v. Alexander Hamilton duel, with the ending from Reservoir Dogs?

Why would I side with the Knicks in anything? I stopped rooting for the Knicks in January 1999. (My 10 year button is coming up.) It was a long time coming. I hated the thug-like style of playing, from Greg Anthony jumping people in street clothes, to Charlie Ward playing football and rolling up the knees of P.J. Brown, to Derek Harper squaring off with JoJo English, and on and on. I hated that all the clutching and grabbin they did that was being praised as defense.

I hated for the most part, the players had no connection to NYC or the fans that worshiped them. I hated that Patrick Ewing would not sign autographs for little kids, that he would not even sign for kids at his own charity events! I disliked Knick management, these idiots that turned the Garden from a place that real basketball fans could call home, to a haven for Wall Street jerkoffs. And nothing bores me more than Wall Street jerkoffs.

The Garden I remember was full of basketball junkies.

Quick story: Its the early 1980's. Hubie Brown is the coach. The Knicks had just acquired Paul Westphal. We were excited as hell over the acquisition. (We shouldn't have been. Westphal was washed up by the time the Knicks got him. As was Randy Smith, Mike Newlin Kiki Vandeweghe and Rolando Blackman.)

Anyway, Hubie does not put Westphal in at all during the game. It's the 4th Quarter, Westphal still is on the bench, and by this time, we had moved up to seats right behind the Knick bench, and we are giving Hubie the business.

"Put Westphal in!" "Come on Hubie, give us a break, put him in the game!" It was our continuous drumbeat.

Finally, Hubie had enough of us. He calls timeout. During the timeout, does he talk to the team? No, he spends the entire timeout lecturing us! His lecture ended with this "My policy is if a guy does not practice, he does not play in the next game, Westphal did not practice, so he ain't playin!

Hubie then turned around to face the basketball court. We all were silent. After about 10 seconds, someone finally blurted out "Go f**k yourself Hubie, put Westphal in the f**kin game!

That's the Garden I loved.

Truth be known, the Knicks were the first sports team I ever fell in love with.

Like millions of other New Yorkers, I consider the 70-73 Knicks the quintessential New York team.

Clyde, Earl, Willis, I love them all, including 12th man Wingo, whose story I have told verbally but I have to figure out a way to get it on paper.

The Old Knicks were part of the fabric of the City, and after they stopped playing, they never stopped being New Yorkers. Walt Frazier is as much a part of New York City as the Empire State Building. Dick Barnett received a doctorate and teaches at St. John's. The late, great Dave Debusschere never left and took his last breath on earth in lower Manhattan. Bill Bradley was a three term Senator and ran for President. On & On.

Everything that is great about team sports was on display with the old Knicks: teamwork, chemistry, selflessness, character, determination & intelligence.

Even after the glory days, I loved the Knicks. I still believe that Bernard King was born in a manger in East New York.

But those days are long gone.

The tipping point for me was when the Knicks acquired Sprewell in January1999. He had just come off of suspension from choking his coach. I had read that Sprewell's pit bull had actually bit of his daughters ear. And he kept the dog. (Wonder what Michael Vick would have done.) And then a reporter asked him a question about Earl Monroe. Sprewell's reaction was along the lines of: Man, I'm 28 years old, I don't know nothin about Earl Monroe, why you askin me about Earl Monroe?

Every bone in my body told me I could not support this man, or this team any more. The willful ignorance in his response combined with every other aspect of the Knicks and the Garden that I found distasteful made me jump across the river to the Nets.

So I hold no love for the Knicks.

Now for Stephon Marbury. Has anyone f**ked up a dream situation more than this guy? A hometown kid, with a city game, a public dying to embrace him, and it never happened for him here.

Like Plaxi, Steph suffers from self inflicted wounds. And it just did not start here. He's never been able to peacefully co-exist with any of his teammates, starting with the greatest teammate anyone can have in the NBA, Kevin Garnett. With the Nets, Steph, would write on his sneakers "all alone" - a slap at his teammates. Player-friendly coaches (Flip Saunders) hard-nosed coaches (Larry Brown) and retarded coaches (Isiah Thomas) never could get through to Stephon.

I have studied Steph for quite a while, and here is my analysis:

The 14 year old Stephon that is depicted in Darcy Frey's "The Last Shot" is the Stephon we see today.

And that is not as bad as it sounds.

In The Last Shot, Steph is a freshman at Lincoln, but already a basketball legend. He is abusive towards teammates (even the seniors!) and has little use for school, or authority.

But he also has a heavy burden to carry. His family has played basketball lotto with all of Steph's older brothers, hoping that one of them would lead them out of poverty.

None of them did. Steph is the last scratch off lotto ticket that they had.

At 14, Steph was well aware of this burden, which was to get all of these adults, his family, out of poverty.

Therefore, Steph even at 14, sees basketball as something he should be compensated for. He pesters the writer for cash. He knows that colleges are going to have to hook him up with cash, cars, etc, for him to even consider going to these schools.

Is he wrong? No he is not wrong. He is a 14 year old business man, way ahead of others older than him in realizing that basketball is big business.

But he is still that same person 18 years later. He and his family won. The scratch off lotto ticket paid off more than they could have ever imagined.

But Steph never learned to combine the joy of playing and competing and being part of something greater than yourself (a team) with the economics part of basketball.

With Steph, its pure economics. And that hurts his game. And basketball seems joyless to him. He is like a construction worker who hates his job.

That's why I have no love for him or his game. It's only about getting paid for Steph. He has no sense of obligation to blend his talents for a greater good,he feels that would harm his pocketbook.

Basketball is a one way street for Steph.

Last year when the Knicks cut his minutes, he pulled the ultimate sellout move: he decided to have elective surgery, surgery that he could have easily had in the off season.

It was a big F**k you to the Knicks. Steph used the system, a system he has been playing since he was 14, to in effect collect 20 million in Worker's Compensation from the Knicks.

And now, in the last year of his contract he comes back this year in shape, ready to work. Of course he is ready to play. Steph always got an "A" in economics. But he's failed in so many other areas.

So I can't support Steph. And I can't support the Knicks.

Sounds like a tie to me.

Does Donavan McNabb know that can happen?

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